USA Luge: World Cup move is ‘devastating’
Luge moves Lake Placid, Whistler World Cup races to Russia
Luge’s governing body took upcoming World Cup races away from the U.S. and Canada on Tuesday, Aug. 31, citing ongoing difficulties in getting foreign athletes into and out of the North American countries during the pandemic.
The planned World Cup stops in Whistler, British Columbia, and Lake Placid, New York, will now both be held at the 2014 Sochi Olympic track in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. They will be the second and third stops on the World Cup schedule, the first from Nov. 26-28 and the second from Dec. 3-5.
The International Luge Federation’s decision means that there will be no World Cup events in any of the three sliding sports — bobsled, skeleton and luge — in North America for a second consecutive season.
Lake Placid also lost a planned World Cup luge stop last season, as well as last winter’s world bobsled and skeleton championships. Whistler was supposed to play host to last season’s luge world championships.
“We had a feeling this was coming down, going back to my calls with them (FIL) on the 10th and the 11th of August,” USA Luge CEO Jim Leahy said Tuesday. “We were just waiting for them to make the official announcement.”
The challenge of getting into the U.S. and Canada was also cited last season when races were removed from the sliding schedule. Leahy said more factors were at play this year, including an August deadline imposed on USA Luge, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the State Department guaranteeing visa appointments for the Russian and Georgian teams.
That deadline couldn’t be met by the time a $1 million deposit was due for the charter flight that would have carried sliders from the opening World Cup in China to the races in Canada and then the U.S., so the FIL moved to change the schedule.
“The inability for us to work with the State Department to get these international events in the U.S. is somewhat perplexing to me,” Leahy said.
During the pandemic, most American embassies around the world closed and are now just beginning to reopen. The current protocol at the embassies with regard to appointments for visas is to prioritize those living in that country to apply for an appointment, according to Leahy.
“With the U.S. Embassy in Russia closed due to political reasons, we tried through multiple channels over several weeks to get the Russians appointments at the American embassies in Latvia, Italy and Germany, but those efforts were fruitless as they are not residents of those countries,” Leahy said. “We also tried the Ukraine, but due to political reasons there, that U.S. embassy was not even an option for the Russians. The Georgians had the option in the Ukraine, but again since they are not residents, no appointment was possible by the FIL deadline. Our organization exhausted every possibility right up to the deadline.”
The decision impacts many in the U.S. — the athletes, their families, fans, sponsors and USA Luge.
“For us, it’s devastating,” Leahy said. “I think the biggest impact to the team is that we’re now going to be on the road from late October to early November. We need to be in China for Nov. 3. … Our athletes could potentially be on the road until post (Olympic) Games.”
The World Cup season will begin at the new Yanqing track built for the 2022 Beijing Olympics, with racing being held Nov. 20-21. It will be followed by World Cups in Sochi on Nov. 27-28 and Dec. 4-5; Altenberg, Germany on Dec. 11-12; and Igls, Austria on Dec. 18-19. After the Christmas break, World Cups will be held in Winterberg, Germany on Jan. 1-2; Sigulda, Latvia on Jan. 8-9; Oberhof, Germany on Jan. 15-16; and St. Moritz, Switzerland on Jan. 22-23. The Olympic Winter Games will be held at Yanqing from Feb. 4 to 20.
“Physically, mentally, this event here was going to be the only opportunity that the families basically had to watch our athletes compete,” Leahy said, adding that if the blueprint for the Winter Olympics is similar to the Summer Olympics held in Tokyo this summer, spectators won’t be allowed.
International Olympic Committee Executive Director Christophe Dubi told Bloomberg TV on Aug. 5 that the 2022 Winter Olympics might not have spectators.
“Let’s see how the pandemic evolves around the globe and especially in China, and then let’s look at the consequence of participation for spectators,” Dubi said. “We have heard a number of the athletes say, ‘What matters is that we can compete, and we’ve gotten used to participating even without spectators.’ But if you have the choice, you would prefer to have spectators.”
But the Lake Placid World Cup was a benefit for many. For one thing, it would have given the state Olympic Regional Development Authority a chance to showcase its multi-million-dollar improvements to the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg. It was also the time USA Luge was to hold its biggest fundraiser — the annual Running of the Balls.
“It was an opportunity for us to really engage our sponsors with an event that we can showcase our athletes prior to the (Olympic) Games. We’ve lost that,” Leahy said. “We had a commitment from NBC to broadcast the Lake Placid event. We’ve lost that. So overall, not only does this impact our athletes in a very negative way, but it also impacts us financially.”
Lake Placid is losing revenue that’s usually generated from hosting a World Cup.
“It is beyond frustrating,” said USA Luge Director of Sponsorships and Marketing Gordy Sheer, who organizes the Running of the Balls. The event will most likely be rescheduled for March. “What that allows us to do is to promote during the Olympic Games to a pretty broad audience. So we’re going to try to make lemonade out of that. … It’s disappointing, but we’ll take the opportunity.”
After spending the spring and summer in their new refrigerated start facility in Lake Placid, U.S. national team athletes and coaches are expected to begin fall sliding in late September in Sochi, followed by a camp on the 1994 Olympic course in Lillehammer, Norway. They will return home and train at Mount Van Hoevenberg from Oct. 13 to17, then travel to Park City, Utah to train on the 2002 Olympic run starting Oct. 20.
It is unclear whether the Lake Placid track would be available to host a World Cup event for luge or bobsled/skeleton during the 2022-23 season, as ORDA will be preparing to host the 2023 Winter World University Games from Jan. 12 to 22. If not, that means Lake Placid would be missing World Cup races for three years in a row, at the least.
“For Lake Placid to miss out on three years of luge World Cups is really disappointing to the hard work that the ORDA folks are putting in and the state of New York in upgrading all these facilities,” Leahy said.
An email request to ORDA spokesperson Elise Ruocco for information about World Cup availability on the Lake Placid track next season was not answered by press time.